Sir Ben Kingsley: I play Jewish roles because my grandmother was antisemitic

The veteran actor said that his grandmother's virulent antisemitism caused him to want to speak up


The legendary actor Sir Ben Kingsley has revealed why he has appeared in so many Holocaust films over the course of his career.

In an interview with Parade magazine earlier this month Kingsley, who has played a number of Jewish characters, was asked whether he felt a connection to those roles.

He said: "I remember as a schoolboy watching a wonderful television documentary series, which examined World War II. And as a schoolboy, alone in the house, I watched the liberation of Belsen on film.

"And I do remember as a young adolescent, I think I was maybe 11 or 12—this was way after World War II, of course, it was a retrospective—but I think my heart stopped beating for a little while. I went into deep shock as a child.

"The disturbing part of this story is that I remember within the same few days having a conversation with my maternal grandmother, who was inexplicably but quite vigorously antisemitic.

"So, the two impressions came to me almost simultaneously, and as a child, it was very difficult for me, impossible for me to counter my grandmother’s outburst, but I think a seed was planted in me that said to me, “One day I will speak.”

Kingsley has previously said that the root of his grandmother's antisemitism was that she was abandoned by a Russian-Jewish man who got her pregnant.

The veteran actor has taken on a number of Jewish roles in his career, starring in Schindler's List as Itzhak Stern, The Rabbi in Lucky Number Slevin and Simon Wiesenthal in an 1989 TV biopic of the Nazi hunter.

In a 2017 panel discussion about his roles, Kingsley said: “When we attempt to describe the Holocaust, the language fails. But we must tell tales.”

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